Diversify Europe's energy sources and make renewables more competitive
Conflict in Ukraine, pipelines CB off The conflict in Ukraine intensifies Europe's quest for a common energy policy. Can the EU 28 combine forces to better ensure energy security for consumers and for businesses?
CB on Hello and welcome to People First, the EPP Group's monthly program on issues with impact on people like you. Joining us to answer some of your questions is Krisjanis Karins. You're a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee here in the European Parliament and also a member of the EPP Group. Welcome.
CB on Mr. Karins, coming from Latvia, I'm sure you well aware of the need to diversify energy sources in part because of this crisis over Ukraine. As economy minister in Latvia, when you were economy minister, how did you try to promote that diversification?
Latvian MEP, on That was a number of years ago. What I did, was I introduced the first energy security strategy that our government had had, which talked about diversifying sources, increasing the use of renewable energy sources. We have lots of renewable energy sources in Latvia. We are of the greenest, together with Sweden we are the two greenest countries in Europe currently. More than 35% of our energy comes from our own resources. From water energy, from biomass. And we've also done a lot to make the legislation that will allow us not only to hook up to the rest of Europe, but also to end the monopoly that Gasprom has on our country. It was granted to them in 1997.
CB on Those of course are just some aspects of the proposed Energy Union. Let's take a look at a few more in our report.
Fighting in Ukraine CB off The European Union wants to protect its consumers and businesses from energy supply and price shocks triggered by instability abroad.
European energy supplies – gas pipelines, tankers (superimpose grafics saying more than 50% energy imported, 90% of oil, 66% of gas) CB off The EU is indeed vulnerable, dependent on imports for more than 50% of its energy. That´s why the EU is seeking to establish a common policy to buy and distribute its energy supplies.
Tankers CB off Called an EU Energy Union, it would ramp up investment in European-produced energy, including renewables, as well as diversify its import partnerships. This in part aimed at reducing dependence on Russia, as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.
Power grids CB off Energy Union would also mean more pipelines, power grids and other infrastructure to interconnect the EU28 in a single market.
Greenhouse gas emissions CB off The EPP Group´s draft energy position paper also calls for a binding greenhouse gas reduction target of at least 40% in the EU. That would include securing the Emissions Trading System as the main tool to reduce those emissions in a cost-efficient way.
Worker installing insulation CB off Energy savings also play a key role, and Europe is behind on its plans for a 20% increase in efficiency by 2020. The EPP Group is calling for more action on the EU level to meet that goal.
CB on So back to the issue that's giving more urgency to the idea of an Energy Union – the tensions with Russia over Ukraine. We have our first vox pop question exactly on that:
Vox pop, on Hi my name is Matthias van Aarens and I'm from Belgium, from Flanders. How can we get not energy from Russia but from somewhere else.
CB on So not the kind of thing you can do one day to another, but how do we do this collectively in the EU?
Kariņš on Collectively it's a two-step process. So the first step is to hook up all of our electricity and gas grids so that gas within the Union can move from one country to another country, not only within. And then the second is to increase our use of liquefied natural gas, the terminals, where we can, from ships, bring gas into the system, which is an alternate source from Russia. So that's specifically how to get gas from a different source. But we need to be able to move that gas around, otherwise we don't get the benefit.
CB on We have another question from a viewer asking about diversifying abroad. Here's another angle on that.
Vox pop, on Hello my name is Bridi and I live in Brussels. And my question is: is it possible to use the sun of the Sahara for Europe, and to counter the problems we have with energy?
CB on So back to that grid question, which you did cover a little bit. But there is some resistance among some countries to do that. Will we ever see, can we see, a grid, an energy grid that goes from the Sahara up to Scandinavia?
Kariņš on The Sahara, that's in the north of Africa, and there we have issues. That is a region outside of the European Union, there's maybe there's a bit of political instability that we would want to be a little wary of. But regarding, within Europe, in Portugal, say, all the way up the Iberian peninsula, through Scandinavia, that is realistic. We already have some grid interconnections, what we lack is enough grid interconnections. But the resistance is not coming from member states, from the politicians. The resistance is coming from incumbent companies, which have a very good situation with very limited competition. What the European Union has to be about is increasing the competition to give greater choice to consumers, so we can wean ourselves from our important dependence, especially on single sources.
CB on What about producing energy at home? Renewables in particular. Here's a question.
Vox pop, on "My name is Emma Verbrugge, I'm from Mechelen and I wonder why we do not build more windmills so we have much more renewable energy in Belgium."
CB on Actually the Belgian government wants renewables to generate 13 percent of the country's electricity by 2020 – about half of that with wind. But is that enough?
Kariņš on The difficulty with wind is we cannot know when it's going to blow. So when it's blowing, electricity needs to go out and be consumed. When it's not, we need a different source of that electricity because we need the lights on all day and all night so to speak. The answer is through a robust grid which goes beyond the borders of Belgium but is connected with all the neighbouring countries. So we can utilise the sources. If the wind is blowing in Belgium or in Great Britain, we use that energy. If the sun is shining in Spain, we use that energy. And then of course we have gas and other power sources in Europe.
CB on So you've got to have an energys mix.
Kariņš on We need an energy mix, but you need the grid. If the grid is in place, you can utilise maximally the variable sources that we have from the sun and the wind.
CB on And then another aspect of trying to make renewables more competitive is to raise the price, some argue, raise the price of carbon emissions. How do you do that, with the Emissions Trading System?
Kariņš on It's already being attempted. That is to…
CB on It's not working up to now.
It's not. And the idea of the emissions trading system is to put a price, also a societal price, on degrading the environment, to make renewables more competitive. But there's a second tool that we have. Is if we could, and this is a big challenge politically, introduce a European-wide system of subsidies, or actually phase out subsidies. Because also our fossil fuels and nuclear energy are subsidised. If we could get rid of these market distorting elements, renewables already would be quite competitive.
CB on And then this other angle of energy use. Are we using too much energy? And how to cut back on our energy use. Here's a question on that:
Vox pop, on Hi my name is Miriam and I'm from Antwerp, and my question to you is how we can save more energy in a cheaper way.
CB on How can we help consumers on a European level, to save energy? For instance maybe helping them insulate their homes?
Kariņš on Well this is exactly the answer, which has been in place for a number of years, which is continuing. The single greatest point of consumption in the European Union is households. We consume in our homes 40% of the energy consumed overall. So if we can use less energy in our household, each family, even by a little, cumulatively that's 500 million people, those are great savings. First and foremost is insulation. Changing the windows, making them more heat-retentive, putting insulation on the outside. These are very basic things.
CB on A lot of people would like to do that, but they don't have the money.
Kariņš on Yes, but we do have funds available, European funds that are in some member states being used better, in some not so well. But this is a program that needs to be ramped up. That's also with lighting – changing over from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs to LED bulbs. This is also a way to go, but the greater source of waste is in heating, not in lighting.
CB on A final question on energy mix. It can be controversial. The question of nuclear. In your neighboring country Lithuania, there was a non-binding referendum that people voted nuclear power down in 2012. How do you deal with that? What kind of energy mix do you see in the future?
Kariņš on What I see is that in the European Union, we need to leave the energy mix up to individual member states. So regarding nuclear power, the French are very strong supporters of nuclear power. That's more than 80% of their electricity generated.
CB on The Germans are exiting nuclear power.
Kariņš on The Germans are exiting. So each member state should have the right to choose on its own. What we need to ensure, that if the member state uses nuclear power, that the maximum safety standards are adhered to. If a member state decides to go after shell gas, or shale oil underneath the ground, deep underneath the ground, that all environmental precautions are taken on board. But the energy mix needs to be up to individual member states because people have different views on this. And I don't think this is something that should be enforced from the center.
CB on Obviously this road to energy independence, or at least less dependence on imports, is a rough one. And you yourself, your job here is cut out for you to build some kind of consensus here in the European Parliament to do that. That you very much, Mr. Karins.
Stand-up CB on And that's it for now on People First.
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